Welcome back to Alternative Dining, a column by Jen Chiu that explores the unconventional dining and drinking scene in Seattle, whether that be pop-up, food truck, gastro-brewpub, or underground dinner party. Got a suggestion? Leave it in the comments or send it to the tipline.
[Photos: Chris H./Yelp | Drive Thru Boba/Facebook]
Drive Thru Boba owners Alex Jorge and Karen Wu's biggest problem is how to keep up with demand for their bubble tea, mochi, and other Taiwanese food specialties. Just ask the loyal customers who religiously follow them on Facebook to hear about their drink and snack specials and then subsequently slip out to get their regular fix of bubble tea at this chic brick-and-mortar spot in Bellevue.
The duo amassed a loyal following when they first set up shop two years ago in a drive thru stand in a 76 Gas station. Comparing the size of their old space to a small bathroom, Jorge now jokes their expanded spot located right off Bellevue Way NE is equivalent to a large master bathroom. As a nod to their drive through stand, they've kept the name.
Bubble Tea, also referred to as boba tea, is a tea-based drink mixed with milk or fruit served with the trademark colorful thick straw and sealed plastic top. Oftentimes, people add tapioca balls and other add-ons to their drink. You can also dictate the percentage of sweetness in your drink.
A lot of people shortcut the process by using powders and artificial flavors, but Jorge and Wu take a lot more care with their drinks. They use high-quality whole leaf tea and freshly steep it.
Drive Thru Boba customers order their drink with the same rigor as a devout coffee drinker ("double ristretto Americano with a dash of vanilla," "nonfat mocha with half the chocolate and twice the whip.") But don't worry, if you're new to the bubble tea scene, bobaristas are on hand to make recommendations. Jorge, who I refer to as the boba sommelier, has a good palate and vision for how the flavor and texture should be paired.
If you're typically an iced coffee drinker, he suggests the milk tea with 75 perfect sweetness because it's sweet and delicious. He recommends the house milk tea with lemon when it's hot outside. Jorge also encourages customers to add more than just the tapioca balls. His favorite add-in is the coffee jelly bits, which resemble the consistency of soft jello. Jorge recommends the house blend or earl grey boba with aloe bits soaked in honey citrus juice when you crave something refreshing—he says it's great for your skin. Describing the taste of aloe, Jorge says, "It resembles a cross between watermelon and lychee."
Due to popular demand, you can now get wheat germ as a topping. Made with organic wheat that is shipped to Taiwan for processing, the wheat germ has toasted oats and almonds sprinkled into it. "I know it sounds weird, but it works. It resembles cereal milk, and gives your boba a crunchy texture with a nutty flavor. I just love it."
If you're adventurous, order the Alex special. Affectionately named after co-owner Alex Jorge, it's not technically on the menu, but the bobaristas will know what you mean when you order it. It's Jorge's favorite bubble tea combination at the moment: House blend at 50 percent sweet with half an order of tapioca balls, half an order of aloe, coffee jelly and wheat germ.
Upon seeing the Alex special for the first time, you may have the same first reaction as Jorge's wife, co-owner Karen Wu: "There's a lot of weird stuff floating around in your drink."
· Drive Thru Boba [Facebook]
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